Study finds group homes increase risk of delinquency

Date Published: 

Ryan, J., Marshall, J. Herz D. & Hernandez, P. (2008). Juvenile Delinquency in child welfare: Investigating Group Home Effects. Children and Youth Services Review, 30(9), 1088-1099.

Reviewed by: 
Elizabeth Fast

While there is mounting evidence to show that risk of delinquency increases with placement in out of home care, researchers have not yet examined whether the risk of delinquency differs by type of out of home placement. Using administrative records from the Department of Children and Family Services and the Department of Probation in Los Angeles County this study examined the influence of group home placement on delinquent behavior. All youth aged 7-16 that experienced at least one placement in out of home care (foster or group home) between 2001 and 2005 and had no arrests prior to their first placement were sampled (n=20, 309). In order to better understand the specific effects of group home placement on delinquent behavior, youth in foster care were matched with youth in group home care on several characteristics including: age at first placement, race, gender, total placement changes, placement changes related to running away, placement changes related to behavior problems and physical abuse as the primary reason for placement. The authors found that subsequent delinquency was associated with group home status, placement changes related to running away, race and gender. Youth that had at least one placement in a group home or that had a placement change due to running away were two and a half times more likely to be arrested. The risk of delinquency was 80% higher for males, 80% higher for African Americans and 32% higher for Hispanics than for white youth. Furthermore, youth that had many placements or those that were placed for reasons of physical abuse were more likely to be arrested. The authors also examined the timing of the arrests in order to see if there was a "lingering group home effect". They found that the arrests happened while youth were placed in a group home, suggesting that it has an immediate effect on their behavior. The authors urge child welfare professionals to more carefully assess the appropriateness of group home placements for victims of maltreatment.

Methodological notes: 

While this study raise some serious concerns about the appropriateness of group home placements for some maltreated youth, further research using more conventional case matching designs is required. Matching was done using a statistical procedure (propensity score matching) that matches youth on a limited number of characteristics available in administrative records. There may nevertheless be other unmeasured differences between the foster care and group care youth that may explain the higher rates of delinquency in group care. Additional information about the youths and the reasons for selection of a group or foster home placement could provide a better understanding of the similarities and differences between these groups. In addition, the study's measurement of delinquency is limited to official arrests and therefore it is possible that unreported delinquent behavior is more common in a foster home setting.